T.J. Berka, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/Sun
ONTARIO - The last 15 to 20 seconds of Saturday's 5-4 overtime victory over the Idaho Steelheads were nerve-wracking for the Reign. But Ontario goaltender Curtis Darling may have been the most emotionally spent of all.
Literally moments after making his 43rd save of the night - a sprawling, diving smothering of Idaho center Marty Flichel's breakaway, shorthanded attempt - Darling had his arms raised after Greg Hogeboom smacked the game-winning goal past Idaho goalie Rejean Beauchemin with 1:20 left in overtime.
"It was one of those moments where you are like `Thank God, now get me out of here,"' Darling said. "You try not to get too high or too low emotionally, but when you stop a breakaway and then see your team score right after, you get excited."
The Reign's excitement in front of 8,690 at Citizens Business Bank Arena was based on a few factors, most notably a second victory in as many nights against the Western Conference-leading Steelheads (34-12-5). The Reign (20-25-7) also prevailed despite being outshot 47-25 and giving up four second-period goals, three coming from Tyler Spurgeon.
"Any time you can get two points against a team as skilled as Idaho at this time of year, you are happy," Reign coach Karl Taylor said. "It might not have looked great at times, but this team kept battling and Curtis played really well. His record is deceiving - you look at the stats, he's one of the top five goalies in this league."
The Reign canceled out Idaho's shot and opportunity advantage through efficiency. They scored the only goal of the first period, as Jon Francisco rebounded his own miss, despite being outshot 16-6 in the first period.
And the Reign kept their heads despite giving up four goals on 18 shots in the second period, the last two coming 25 seconds apart. Spurgeon scored twice in a row after Robert Pearce put Ontario up 2-0 early in the second and tied things up 3-3 with 3:22 left in the period. Andrew Rome scored shortly after, giving the Steelheads their only lead.
"That's when you are tested the most," Darling said. "If you say, `I've given up four goals, it's over,' then it is over. The defense did a good job of keeping their shots to the outside and the offense made the most of their chances."
Hulking right wing Sean O'Connor was especially effective. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder gave Idaho fits with his wraparound move from behind the goal, finding Peter Lenes for a second-period goal and scoring the game-tying goal with 4:19 left in the third, stuffing the puck past Beauchemin after another wraparound.
"It's something that's always worked for me," O'Connor said. "It draws defenders' attention, which allowed me to find Petey wide open for his goal.
I'm able to use my body and the goal to get good position."
Lenes also factored heavily in the game-winning goal. After Darling thwarted Flichel's shorthanded chance - caused by a kneeing penalty by Idaho's Steve Olesky - Lenes got the puck in front of the net and fed Hogeboom, who buried the shot in the back of the net.